With the majority of freshers keen to spend their first week at uni in a state of intoxication, the idea of a crazy drunken freshers’ week can seem a little isolating to the minority of students who choose not to drink. The student drinking culture is undeniable, and going clubbing seems to be the most obvious and accepted way to bond with people. But that shouldn’t mean all new students have to drink in order to have a good time and get to know each other.
The huge amount of effort put in by the freshers’ reps to make the week an enjoyable one was clear. Fortunately, the idea that some freshers don’t drink and look elsewhere for entertainment is becoming increasingly acknowledged: while the main emphasis was still put on the bops and fancy dress events, my college did offer ‘Chilled Events’ for most evenings of freshers’ week as an alternative to partying. However, this was limited to board games and card games, and was far less advertised than the main events going on in the bar. As a result, these alternative events did not have a great turnout. Having since discussed this issue with other non-drinkers, it seems that a number of people felt that they had little choice but to stay in their rooms in the evening, or else be thought of as weird or a bore for choosing not to go out with (what seemed like) everyone else. After hearing someone be labelled a ‘Grandma’ for not wanting to go out drinking midweek, I realised there is a definite stigma attached to choosing not to drink at university, particularly in freshers’ week where the focus seems to be on alcohol consumption.
Of course, people who don’t drink can still enjoy the fancy dress events; however, non-drinkers are very often non-clubbers, preferring less rowdy social events that don’t revolve around partying. Why were board games the only option each night? Perhaps more varied activities that get people talking, as well as more film nights and comedy and entertainment events, would have proved more popular in the evenings.
The most popular event for non-drinkers during freshers’ week at my college was surely the Chilled Stroll, which ran in tandem with the club crawl night. With a strong turnout, the stroll proved to be the perfect opportunity to get to know other people without the pressure to drink, while still giving those that wanted to have a few drinks the chance to do so. It was one of the few events that catered for both drinkers and non-drinkers alike, and allowed like-minded people to meet. The night began by doodling on each other’s t-shirts before heading to a couple of establishments ending with The Slug and Lettuce for (optional) 2 for 1 cocktails. It was a great relaxed evening – and the lack of a hangover in our academic induction talks the following morning was a definite plus.
So while it is slowly becoming more acceptable to choose to stay sober during freshers’ week – my college mentor wisely advised that it is entirely possible to go the whole of freshers’ week and indeed the whole of uni without having a single alcoholic drink, if that’s what you want! – perhaps there are still steps to be taken to ensure all teetotal freshers eager to meet new people still have a fulfilling and sociable freshers’ week. It needs to be made clear: drinking shouldn’t be the only way to have fun in the first week of university.